By Crystal Harrell
Erica Villanueva runs a one-woman show at her growing business, Desert Villa Bakery. This sweet establishment’s name is a personal testament to her love for the Coachella Valley, created as a combination of her home and variation of her last name. Villanueva is the owner and baker of her home-based business. She formerly worked at a regular 9-5 office job, but with the spread of COVID-19, she decided to not go back and instead focus her time on developing her craft.
“The main service I currently provide is for custom cakes, cupcakes, and sugar cookies. Each item is made to order and incorporates my personal design style,” said Villanueva.
Villanueva was first inspired to decorate cakes from a friend of hers who also baked as a side hustle. Her ability to create beautiful desserts intrigued her, and from there, Villanueva just kept learning by taking classes and honing her technique through trial and error. It is only recently that she has been working towards having a consistent business rather than just a hobby.
“The first cake I ever baked and tried to decorate fancy was for my son’s birthday in June 2017. But I didn’t take on my first order until March 2018,” explained Villanueva.
The baking process for Villanueva’s sweet confections actually takes a little longer than expected. She splits up her baking and decorating into two days—one day for baking and one day for decorating. Packaging is also a factor, with larger cookie orders taking an especially longer time to package each item individually.
Desert Villa Bakery is closed over the summer to develop a bigger menu and increase Villanueva’s availability for ready-to-buy items. She is, however, taking a limited amount of custom orders and provides small cakes to-go every weekend until she re-opens. These items are not custom, but are still beautifully decorated and available for last minute needs. Villanueva hopes to include cupcakes, a wider variety of baked cookies, macarons, donuts, and iced beverages to offer on the new menu. Desert Villa Bakery is reopening in September, and there are plans to have a small pop-up celebration.
One of the highlights of Villanueva’s baking venture so far was when local restaurant Chula Eatery requested some specialty cupcakes to have in their cabinet for Easter. Before the day was done, the owner had called Villanueva and told her they completely sold out of her cupcakes and needed to order more. She was surprised at the popularity of her baked goods and took that as inspiration to continue developing Desert Villa Bakery.
“My favorite cake that I’ve done was a wedding cake I made last fall. The top tier was chocolate raspberry, the middle tier was salted caramel, and the bottom tier was cookies-n-cream flavored… I felt so honored that someone loved my style enough to order their wedding cake from me!” said Villanueva.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Villanueva’s orders were set for weekend events. Since there are few large events occurring right now, she finds herself doing mostly mid-week pick-ups and smaller quantity orders. This is another reason why she is looking to expand her business and is making treats available more often.
“My favorite part of this business is definitely being able to use my creativity for my clients. I love coming up with ideas for different themes. I always add my modern flare to my orders. My husband is my biggest supporter and my three teenage boys are the best taste testers around! My eight-month-old daughter is a fan of my late night baking, but I think it’s because she’s not allowed to have any yet,” stated Villanueva.
Her parents and sister also live nearby in the Coachella Valley and are very supportive of the progress that Villanueva has made with Desert Villa Bakery. “I have a great support system here, and definitely would not be able to pursue this as a career if it weren’t for that system. My family is everything,” said Villanueva.
A website for Desert Villa Bakery is currently in the works, but for now, information can be found on Instagram (@mz.villa.bakes) and on Facebook.